On November 5, 2019, the Richardson ISD conducted its first-ever election with single-member districts. The new voting system was specifically designed in reaction to a voting rights lawsuit that complained that RISD's at-large voting system discriminated against the minority community. In this first election, three of the five single-member districts were up for election. In each of the next two years, another single-member district, plus an at-large district, will be up for election. At the end of three years, all of the new districts will have been elected under the new system. Now that the first election is behind us, let's ask how it worked.
The obvious answer is, as designed. The newly created District 4, a so-called "opportunity district" for minorities, drew four minority candidates. Regina Harris was elected. She will be the first African-American trustee since David Tyson stepped down and subsequently filed his lawsuit. So, yay us!
But there's a troubling detail in the election results — the vote totals. District 5, in which incumbent Karen Clardy ran unopposed, drew a total of 4,278 votes. District 2, in which incumbent Eron Linn defeated Vanessa Pacheco, drew a total of 4,056 votes. And District 4, with four candidates and no incumbent, drew a total of 1,247 votes.
That's topsy-turvy. An election in an opportunity district with four candidates drew less than a third the number of votes as the district with only one candidate. So, boo us!
What gives? One of the arguments in favor of single-member districts was that the at-large system discouraged minority candidates from running and minority voters from voting because they believed the system was rigged against them and they stood no chance at election. That argument doesn't work this time around. Four minority candidates stepped up to the plate, but voters didn't. Voters were assured that one of them would be elected. Still, turnout in this one district was embarrassingly low, even by the normal embarrassingly low standard of turnout in local elections in general. What's the argument this time?
So, even though the election resulted in a minority trustee, and a good one at that (full disclosure: I recommended voting for Regina Harris), the low turnout keeps me from feeling good about the election overall.
District 3, another so-called "opportunity district," will elect a new trustee in May, 2020. Let's hope the voters appreciate the opportunity and turn out in bigger numbers than their neighbors in District 4 did this year.